BART Uproots Homeless Camp

By Maybelle Caro

Photograph by Max Barmack

A homeless encampment on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) property in South Berkeley was evicted by BART on October 25. The camp was located on 63rd Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, on the east side of the BART tracks.

Another encampment to the west of the tracks, at the site of the “Here There” sculpture, was also ordered to vacate the property. Residents were temporarily protected from eviction by a ruling from United States District Court Judge William Alsup on October 24.

BART Police Department posted eviction notices at the two encampments on October 21, ordering residents to vacate the area within 72 hours.

“Here There” residents asked the Oakland-based law firm Siegel & Yee to represent them, and the law firm accepted. They filed a lawsuit against BART on October 23. Lawyer and firm partner Daniel Siegel said that the campers felt “it was illegal for the BART to try to evict them.”

In the complaint, the plaintiffs said that if forced to move, they would lose their shelter and sustain damage from living in the elements. They asked that an “arrest free zone” be established at the encampment site.

Regarding BART’s relationship with the encampments, BART Police Lieutenant Tyrone Forte said, “I can’t really speak for BART, but they didn’t really pay attention to what was going on in the area because Berkeley was usually maintaining [the property].” Forte said that recent events prompted the eviction decision.

At the east-side encampment on October 6, a mother of four who was not homeless was discovered dead in a tent. The following week, a homeless man hit another camper with a hammer and threatened a second inhabitant with it.

The American International Montessori School, located near the encampment, reported that young students had seen camp inhabitants using drugs and masturbating. Community complaints of a bonfire near the camp, drug use, public masturbation, and public defecation also contributed to BART’s response to the east-side encampment.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin released a statement regarding the two encampments. Regarding the Here There encampment, he said, “For most of its existence, it has been a well-run intentional community, supported by local residents and businesses.” He said that he had urged BART to focus eviction enforcement on the east-side encampment due to health and safety concerns and the recent death and assaults.

Emily Rose Johns, an assistant attorney with Siegel & Yee, BART representatives told the court that they were going to carry out the eviction in a transparent, constitutional manner. However, she said that during the eviction of the east-side camp, “They did everything… that they told the court they wouldn’t do.”

Johns said that police arrived at five in the morning, threw away inhabitants’ property, and failed to store and label property appropriately, constituting a fourth amendment violation.

Siegel & Yee submitted approximately sixteen declarations from individuals who witnessed the eviction or had experienced similar evictions in Berkeley in the past.

“I think the court is going to have a lot more information in front of it to make a more informed decision,” Johns said. She said the firm hopes to secure a preliminary injunction, which would extend the restraining order against BART removal of the Here There encampment.